Craft store chain Hobby Lobby and Christian book store company Mardel announced on Friday that they will defy a federal mandate to provide co-pay-free birth control access to their employees.
The announcement comes days after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied Wednesday the company’s request for an injunction during the course of the lawsuit.
Hobby Lobby and Mardel are owned by the same conservative Christian family, which is suing to block the section of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) which requires that employee health care plans provide coverage for morning-after pills and other emergency contraception. In defying the federal mandate, potential fines for the retailer could reach over $1.2 million a day. An attorney for the stores said that Hobby Lobby will continue to deny coverage for those services, because “to remain true to [the owners’] faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.”
While religious organizations are granted exemption from these provisions, in November U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton said that Hobby Lobby and Mardel do not qualify for that protection. In October, a federal judge in Missouri denied a similar claim.
Hobby Lobby’s owners are essentially punishing their employees by endangering the company’s reputation and well-being in pursuit of their personal political agenda. And they are doing so via breaking the law with deliberate intent. Hobby Lobby is asserting the power to push the owners’ personal religious agenda ahead of their legally required commitment to contribute towards all parts of an employee’s health equally.
Those on the right argue that Obamacare is imposing “the right by the government to demand, by law, that religious institutions be forced to support policies that contradict their own beliefs.” This argument is disingenuous at best and ignores the power relationships between the parties involved. Hobby Lobby is arguing for the right to impose its beliefs on its employees in direct contradiction to a federal law which it has no authority to disobey.
One might argue this is an unwise time to grandstand over contraception. Just months ago, women were outraged by comments on rape and abortion made by GOP candidates Todd Akin, Joe Walsh, and Richard Mourdock, all of whom lost their respective elections. Mitt Romney was widely mocked for his “binders of women” comments. In a Gallup poll conducted before the November 6 presidential elections, 39% of women in the top 12 swing states ranked abortion as their number one issue. From a P.R. standpoint, it seems unlikely this will help the company. Chik-fil-A was forced to moderate its stance on gay marriage in September from public pressure alone.
Additionally, it is hard to see how being charged millions of dollars in federal fines will help their case; and even if they do win in court, it would require an extremely Hobby Lobby-friendly decision and/or a subsequent lawsuit to get those fines back.
Hobby Lobby should accept the federal order. It is fighting a losing game.